The World Wide Web Consortium has been keeping us busy and is at it again, working to provide standards aimed at bringing some measure of sensibility to the wild world of web content.
Earlier this month, the W3C released a new Web Standard designed to help bring content to a broader international audience. Most recently they are focusing on internationalization tools for XML and XHTML content.The new standard has been dubbed the International Tag Set (ITS 1.0) and is designed to deal with issues most web designers probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about – at least until it's time for that costly exercise of porting content to new languages and cultures.
Implementations have been provided for DTDs, XML Schema and Relax NG, and can be used with new or existing vocabularies like XHTML, DocBook, and OpenDocument. Web standards have certainly come a long way since the W3C released CSS standards more than a decade ago.
When setting up a site, most folks don't even think that the site's text might have to flow right to left – such as for Arabic. Or consider: should the entire text of your site be translated during localization, or are there quotations that should remain in the original language? Fortunately for us ITS is designed to address just these sorts of issues.
ITS 1.0 adds constructs that indicate how sites should present themselves in different regions. For example, the “its:dir" attribute specifies the direction in which text should flow. The standard also offers guidelines for issues such as dealing with international complications like the Ruby annotations used to indicate pronunciation in Asian documents.
Of course, not everyone has the advantage of learning ITS before implementing a site or configuring a CMS. Fortunately, ITS is also designed to help deal with pre-existing XML documents. By linking the format of an XML page to specific ITS version references, old documents can still be localized with considerably less effort than coding them from scratch.
The new international standard was designed in conjunction with the W3C Internationalization Activity, comprised of three of W3C's working groups and the Internationalization Interest Group. Hopefully, the needs of every region have been addressed, but if you find you're missing something critical, the W3C encourages you to provide feedback.
Familiarizing yourself with the spirit of the ITS 1.0 standard today could certainly make life easier when you discover that your code is unexpectedly headed for viewing abroad.